Emperor of France; b. Paris, April 20, 1808; d. Chislehurst, England, Jan. 9, 1873. He was baptized Charles Louis and was the third son of Louis and Hortense Bonaparte (then king and queen of Holland) and the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was forced by the Congress of Vienna to spend his early manhood in exile. Educated in a Bavarian Gymnasium, he acquired Swiss citizenship. As a member of the carbonari he took part in a local Italian revolution (1830–31) against the Austrian Hapsburgs. The combined efforts of his mother and Cardinal Mastai (later Pius IX) were required to rescue him from capture and possible execution. He afterward attempted two ill-fated coups d'état against the bourgeois government of the Orleanist King Louis Philippe. Pardoned after the failure of his coup of 1832 at Strasbourg, Louis Napoleon visited Boston, MA (1836–37), before going to England to await the death of his mother. The attempted coup of 1840 at Boulogne led to his imprisonment at the Ham fortress near the Belgian border. With the help of Dr. Henru Conneau, he escaped (1846) to England, where he established important political and social connections. In 1848 he served as a constable in London during the Chartist demonstration.
As an intellectual, Louis Napoleon was influenced by the socialist ideology of saint-simon. He wrote several treatises, two of which foreshadowed his political and socioeconomic policies, which would place him among the first rulers to cope with problems emerging from the industrial revolution. His Napoleonic Ideas advanced a constructive social and economic program for the French people. In The Extinction of Pauperism he advocated a regulated economy and social hierarchy, ideas that led later critics to label him a protofascist.
In 1848 the February and June Revolutions in France spelled the permanent end of monarchy and ushered in the Second French Republic. A constitution was adopted in November, and, assisted by the Napoleonic legend, his own versatile appeal and program, and the fear of socialism, Louis Napoleon was elected president for a terminal four-year term. He had won Catholic support by promising, after negotiations with montalembert, to protect religion, grant the Church freedom of education, and guarantee the freedom and authority of the pope, then in exile at Gaeta. As president, he dispatched troops to occupy Rome and permit the return of Pius IX, and he recommended the Falloux Law on education. The constitution enabled the conservative Legislative Assembly to control the executive, but imprudent decisions in limiting the suffrage and in granting presidential power to appoint army and police chiefs made possible Louis's coups of 1851 and 1852. The first coup granted Louis sweeping powers to revise the constitution, while the coup of 1852 established the Second Empire. Montalembert broke with him, but Louis veuillot and Bishop maret led most Catholics to support his imperial claims. Republican opposition was subdued, and in 1853 the emperor married the beautiful Spanish countess, Eugenie de Teba. Three years later the prince imperial, Louis Napoleon (1856–79), was born, assuring succession to the throne.
The domestic policy of Napoleon III stimulated the progress of the industrial revolution. A network of railroads and a banking system contributed to national unity, while the economy was bolstered by government credit at home and in imperial territory. Banking developed with great vigor. Government banks (the Crédit Foncier and the Crédit Agricole) and the private Crédit Mobilier encouraged industrialization, commerce, urban development, and agricultural growth. The Bank of France centralized the banking structure. The Cobden Treaty of 1860 with England committed France to a policy of free trade. It was less remunerative than expected, but a public works program averted economic dislocation and made possible the prefect G. E. Haussmann's beautification of Paris. In 1864 the government permitted the rise of labor unions with rights of strike and bargaining.
Relative peace and prosperity were conducive to the growth of French culture and the contributions of L. pasteur in science, F. M. de Lesseps in engineering, C. P. Baudelaire and G. Flaubert in literature, J. Offenbach and G. Courbet in the arts, and J. Garnier in architecture. Catholicism flourished despite the growing differences between Liberal Catholics and the ultramontanists (see ultramontanism). Numerous religious congregations of women were authorized, and French missionaries labored in many parts of the world, especially in southeast Asia. lourdes became an international shrine of pilgrimage.
Ambitious overextension in the field of foreign affairs led France to disaster. Among Napoleon's imperial ventures, the Crimean War was particularly expensive in lives and money and brought questionable diplomatic gain. The War of Italian Liberation (1859–60) revealed that France alone could not control the balance of power. Theoretically committed to the risorgimento, Napoleon was fearful of alienating Catholic support, and consequently his maintenance of French troops in Rome deprived the United Italian armies of their most desired prize. Only with the withdrawal of these troops in 1870 was the last remnant of the states of the church occupied. The Mexican expedition (1861–67) terminated in the execution of "Emperor" Maximilian, the withdrawal of French troops, and loss of prestige. Imperial expansion into Indochina and Algeria led to a century of tension and eventual expulsion. In 1863–64 Polish patriots waited in vain for French help. Only Romania, which achieved autonomy, profited from Napoleon's idealistic belief that he could act as the arbiter of European destiny. Overconfidence and preoccupation with unsound foreign ventures blinded him to the rise of a powerful Prussia. The French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) resulted in the capture and exile of the emperor and the humiliating Treaty of Frankfurt. France never wholly regained the prestige attained by Napoleon during his 22 years of rule.
Bibliography: a. l. guÉrard, Napoleon III (Cambridge, MA 1943). Oeuvres de Napoleon III, 5 v. (Paris 1854–69). p. gueriot, Napoleon III, 2 v. (Paris 1933–34). p. de la gorce, Histoire du Second Empire, 7 v. (Paris 1894–1905). j. maurain, La Politique ecclésiastique du Second Empire de 1852 à 1869 (Paris 1930). É. ollivier, L'Empire libéral: Études, ré cits, souvenirs, 18 v. (Paris 1894–1918). a. dansette, Religious History of Modern France, tr. j. dingle v.1 (New York 1961). r. w. collins, Catholicism and the Second French Republic (New York 1923).
[r. j. maras]
"Napoleon III." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/napoleon-iii
"Napoleon III." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/napoleon-iii